OverviewMt. LeConte sits on the Sierra Crest roughly halfway between Mts. Langley and Muir, the two most southerly 14ers in California. By a mere 70 feet was it left out of that coveted list, and as a result it gets only a few dozen ascents a year instead of several hundred. The summit prominence is about 150ft high and 250ft in diameter, and class 3 by its easiest route, making it a challenging scramble much like Mt. Russell.
The peak was named in 1895 for Joseph LeConte, a professor of Geology and Natural History at the University of California. Many other Sierra features were named for the senior LeConte as well as his son, Joseph N. LeConte, including LeConte Canyon, LeConte Divide, LeConte Falls, and LeConte Point. Both were active in early Sierra exploration and charter members of the Sierra Club. See Etymology section below for more details.
Getting ThereThe nearest trailhead for Mt. LeConte is found at Whitney Portal. For more info on Whitney Portal, see the Mt. Whitney page.
The Meysan Lake TH is located about a mile below the Whitney Trail TH along the main road. A small parking area can be found on the south side of the road where a trailhead sign can be found. Follow the sometimes confusing trail through the campground and the summer cabins. Once the main trail is reached just past the cabins, it is very well maintained and nearly impossible to get lost. Follow the trail for almost four miles. The maintained trail ends in a meadow below the morraine surrounding Meysan Lake (which is above, but not visible). Several decent use trails can be followed for another mile to the shores of Meysan Lake. Follow around the east and south shores of the lake, then head up the broad funnel that leads to the upper plateau between Mts. LeConte and Mallory. The chute on the right (described by Secor) is the most straightforward, but may have snow/ice choking it even in late season. Class 3 climbing to an alternative chute several hundred yards to the left of this may offer easier access if you have no crampons or axe with you. The right side of the funnel has steep cliffs and lingering snows. Once up on the plateau, it is an easy (though tedious) hike south to the obvious base of the summit.
Red Tape & Mountain ConditionsUnlike a hike up the Whitney Trail, you do not need a Whitney Zone stamp on your backcountry permit, or a dayhike permit if only going for the day. Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays, and quotas apply to the Meysan Lake Trail from May to September.
Everything you need to know about conditions, permits and regulations can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logisitcal Center page.
When To ClimbMt. LeConte is generally climbed in the summer months (June - Oct) when the Meysan Lakes Trail is snow-free. However, just as Mt. Whitney is climbed year-round, so could Mt. LeConte. Because there are fewer visitors in winter, the Meysan Lake Trail is likely to be less packed and more arduous than the Whitney Trail. . Climbs in the winter months should only be undertaken by those skilled in winter mountaineering. Be wary of avalanche dangers, particularly the steep slopes above Meysan Lake and below the upper plateau.
CampingWith a valid Wilderness Permit, camping is allowed in the region. Fine campsites are available at the end of the maintained trail in the meadow, or further south towards the small lakes found there. Camping at Meysan Lake is also possible - there is soft grass and flat areas for tent pads, but no trees for shade in the summer months.
Etymology"Joseph LeConte (1823-1901), professor of geology and natural history at the University of California, 1869-1901.
The falls was named in August 1892 'Cross this ledge well to the right and gradually approach the river, which can be followed to the head of what is in many respects the most majestic cascade in the whole canyon, the LeConte Cascade, so named by us in honor of our most esteemed Professor, Joseph LeConte.' (R. M. Price, 'Through the Tuolumne Canyon,' SCB 1, no. 6, May 1895: 204.)
'Some time ago those residents of the Lone Pine district who are interested in the mountains decided upon naming this peak LeConte, in honor of Professor Joseph LeConte. ... A conical mass of rock about 150 feet high and 250 feet in diameter forms the apex of LeConte. After careful investigation we found this utterly impossible to climb. So we placed the monument on the north side of the dome where it can be easily seen by any one approaching the summit; and it a small can we put a photograph of the Professor, with the following memorandum: "To-day, the 14th of August, 1895, we, undersigned, hereby named this mountain LeConte, in honor of the eminent geologist, Professor Joseph LeConte.' (A. W. de la Cour Carroll, SCB 1, no. 8, May 1896: 325-26.)
Farquhar (Place Names, 56-57) seems to assume that 'LeConte Divide' was named for the senior LeConte, but it could just as easily have been for J. N. LeConte, who explored in the Palisades and the Kings River Region. The name appears on the first edition of the Mt. Goddard 30' map, 1912.
Joseph Nisbet LeConte (1870-1950), a charter member of the Sierra Club, professor of engineering mechanics at the University of California, 1895-1937. The canyon apparently was named by the USGS during the 1907-09 survey for the Mt. Goddard 30' map; it is on the first edition, 1912. LeConte Point was named by R. B. Marshall, USGS. (Farquhar: Marshall.)
Joseph N. LeConte was one of the foremost explorers of the Sierra Nevada. He hiked and climbed from 1889 to 1928, wrote extensively about his travels, compiled a number of maps, and was an expert photographer."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada
The peak was named for the elder LeConte, Joseph, who had a long friendship with John Muir.
"Of greater significance in the history of the Sierra Nevada, and more in keeping with John Muir's nature, was the arrival in August of the 'University Excursion Party,' a group of young men from the University of California who had invited their geology professor, Joseph LeConte, to accompany them on a camping trip. While exploring the Valley, they stopped a moment at the foot of the Yosemite Falls, at a sawmill, to make inquires. 'Here we found a man in rough miller's garb, whose intelligent face and earnest, clear blue eyes excited our interest. After some conversation, we discovered it was John Muir, a gentleman of whom we had heard so much from Mrs. Professor Carr and others. We urged him to go with us to Mono, and he seemed disposed to do so.' A few days later Muir joined the party, affording many opportunities for sympathetic discussions about glaciers and rock formations. At Tenaya Lake one evening there took place a tableau of supreme piquancy: 'After supper,' writes LeConte, 'I went with Mr. Muir and sat on a rock jutting into the lake. It was full moon. I never saw a more delightful scene. The deep stillness of the night; the silvery light and deep shadows of the mountains; the reflection on the water, broken into thousands of glittering points by the ruffled surface; the gentle lapping of the wavelets upon the rocky shore -- all these seemed exquisitely harmonized with one another and the grand harmony made answering music in our hearts. Gradually the lake surface became quiet and mirror-like, and the exquisite surrounding scenery was seen double. For an hour we remained sitting in silent enjoyment of this delicious scene, which we relunctantly left to go to bed.' They continued to Tuolumne Meadows, made a climb of Mount Dana, and went down Bloody Canyon to Mono Lake and the Craters, where Muir left the party to return to Yosemite. The professor shortly afterwards published several articles in which he expressed views substantially in agreement with those of Muir about glaciation and rock structure. In neither does there appear to have been any thought of rivalry; no doubt each contributed to the development of the other's ideas and together they spread a doctrine that gained wider acceptance than the theories so stubornly maintained by the Whitney school."
- Francis Farquhar, History of the Sierra Nevada
Joseph maintained an enduring friendship with Muir, and helped found the Sierra Club in 1892. "Little Joe", as the younger Joseph N. LeConte was called, was also a charter member, acting as a director from 1898-1940, and as its second president (after Muir) from 1915-1917.
"Even before the Sierra Club was formally organized, some of its future members were engaged in opening trails into canyons and passes and in climbing peaks. Foremost among them was young Joseph N. LeConte, son of the professor who had accompanied the 'University Excursion Party' in 1870. 'Little Joe,' as he was frequently called, while still an undergraduate at the University of California, accompanied his father in 1889 on a camping trip to Hetch Hetchy, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, in the course of which he climbed mounts Hoffmann, Dana, and Lyell. Such was the effect of this trip that for the rest of his life the younger LeConte, like his father before him, remained enamoured of the High Sierra. The following year, with three college friends, he visited Kings Canyon, Kearsarge Pass, and Mount Whitney. They returned to Yosemite by way of Owens Valley, Bloody Canyon, and Tuolumne Meadows. On this trip LeConte carried a camera and began a series of photographs which for many years were famous as the finest views of the Sierra published. Year after year he continued to camp in the Sierra and climb the peaks, with various companions but more and more with Miss Helen Marion Gompertz and some of her friends. A climax for the LeConte family was a trip in 1900, when the elder LeConte, then 77 years of age, accompanied the younger people on a camping trip to Kings Canyon. They spent six weeks in the mountains, and he wrote, 'every step of the journey, and in some parts, as we approached the summit, the exhilaration of spirit and the exultation of mind was such as I had not felt for ten years.' In June, 1901, Helen Gompertz and Joe LeConte were married. She, too, was a charter member of the Sierra Club and for the rest of her life continued to share with her husband an unwavering devotion to the high mountain country."
- Francis Farquhar, History of the Sierra Nevada
More on Joseph LeConte: